More K-Beauty, Please
We’ve certainly been in a Korean skincare craze these past few years. Still one of the hottest buzz words in the beauty industry, ‘K-beauty’ doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
I mean, sheet masks, anyone? They are everywhere. Even national drugstores like CVS have store aisles dedicated to these vitamin-infused wonders from the East. While sheet masks have gained the most attention, they’re only one small part of the K-beauty lifestyle. A typical Korean skincare routine can have as much as 10 or more steps.
While new to American culture, Koreans dedication to proper skin health is rooted in history. According to the popular Asian-beauty e-commerce site, Peach & Lily, “Korean beauty heritage is steeped in natural ingredients passed down from generation to generation.”
And the desired outcome? “Radiant, hydrated and glowing skin,” says Jessica Walker, associate director of the Columbia-based beauty store Kaysi Beauty. But is that goal possible? Or is it just another case of skin-fads-gone-wrong?
I had to find out. For two weeks, I decided to go full-on K-beauty by trying out the golden 10-step Korean skincare process. Yes, 10 whole steps. If it sounds a bit tedious — spoiler alert — it is. Yet is it worth it? Let’s see.
The 10-Step Process
Here’s a quick rundown of each step:
- Oil cleanser: The first step of the infamous “double cleanse” method, it breaks down and removes oil-based makeup.
- Water-based cleanser: The second step of the “double cleanse” method, it removes any lasting impurities from the skin.
- Exfoliator: Only to be used three to four times a week, the exfoliator is important for removing dead skin cells.
- Toner: Slightly different from usual toners, it acts as a sealant and is necessary for balancing the skin’s PH levels while also prepping the skin for moisturization.
- Essence: This quintessential K-beauty product instantly hydrates the skin and helps give that coveted dewy complexion.
- Treatments: This customizable step includes the use of serums and oils that are targeted to specific skin needs, such as anti-aging or acne fighting.
- Sheet masks: Considered the most luxurious step, these masks infuse the skin with essential nutrients and can be used daily or at least three to four times a week.
- Eye cream: Often gel-based, a gentle eye cream helps eliminate bags, puffiness and dark circles under the eyes.
- Moisturizer: The moisturizer or cream locks in moisture and helps diminish fine lines.
- Sun protection: The most crucial step, a gentle sunscreen in the morning protects the skin and prevents premature aging.
The First Day
After researching top K-beauty products, I decided on 10 products that I thought would be best for my dry, sensitive skin. With the winning products all lined up in order on my bathroom counter, my journey to better skin was ready to begin.
First up, I washed my face with The Face Shop’s Rice Water Bright Light Cleansing oil. Per the instructions, I rubbed the product over my dry skin in circular motions before rinsing it off. It felt unusual to not wet my face first, but it glided over my skin perfectly. I was pleasantly surprised by how much this oil alone took off my mascara without any eye irritation.
I followed with The Face Shop’s Rice Water Bright Cleansing Foam. New to this double-cleansing method, it seemed a little excessive. Yet after cleansing, I looked up in the mirror and all I could think was — wow, what an upgrade from my usual lazy Neutrogena face wipes.
Next, I scooped out a nickel-sized amount of Skin Food’s Black Sugar Wash-Off Mask for exfoliation. The product already started to dissolve into my skin before the allotted 10-15-minute wait-time, and there was a nice warming effect. Bonus: while scrubbing it off, it didn’t feel too abrasive (like an old St. Ives Apricot Scrub).
On to the toner — a step I’ve always skipped in my regular routine because I’ve never felt the need. Thoughts aside, I put a little bit of Son & Park’s Beauty Water — an online cult favorite — on a cotton pad and gently swiped it across my face in upward strokes. I was both surprised and delighted to realize that this isn’t your normal alcohol-smelling toner. There was no slight burning factor and it was pretty moisturizing.
Now, almost halfway through the regime, my face felt super clean. Like almost as if makeup had never graced my face before kind of clean. Dramatic? Perhaps. But wow, that’s how clean it felt and looked.
Next up, essence. Putting a few drops of Mizon’s Water Volume EX First Essence on my fingertips, it felt like a slightly thicker and stickier toner consistency similar to egg whites. I patted the product onto my skin until it absorbed. Soon, I felt a bit of a plumping factor.
The plumping greatness didn’t come into full effect, however, until the next step — the sheet mask. Soaked with extra essence and vitamins, the Dermal Korea Collagen Essence Full Face Facial Mask Sheet contoured nicely over my face.
One “Friends” episode later — or 20 minutes as instructed— I pulled the mask off and my skin had an instant glow. The glow, from my previous experience with these masks, was more momentary rather than lasting, but boy did it make my skin feel as supple as ever.
Once I rubbed in the excess product, I got ready for the serums — the most customizable step. Since I have very fair and sensitive skin that can sometimes look dull, I opted for Seoul Ceuticals Day Glow Serum with Vitamin C. It promises to help boost and brighten the skin while also providing anti-aging benefits. I put two drops of the serum on my fingertips and then gently patted it onto my face, focusing particularly on my upper cheeks and forehead.
By this stage, it does feel like I’m a bit moisturized-out.
Regardless of my reservations, I continued with the seventh step: the eye cream. Using my ring finger, I very gently tapped Answer From’s Luminous Collagen Eye Cream under my eyes while also crossing my fingers for luck that this step, in particular, works its magic. Lack of shut-eye and under-eye darkness is always my concern. Next, I moved on to moisturization.
I grabbed the Ladykin Affinitic Snail Cream, which comes in a super cute snail-shaped container. I put a nickel-sized amount of the cream all over my face, once again making sure to apply in upwards motions as to not pull the skin down. The cream felt very light and airy and soaked into my skin effortlessly.
Finally, (whew, still with me?) I finish off the regime with an SPF sunscreen in the morning: Etude House Sunprise Mild Airy Finish Sun Milk. This product was very light and didn’t cause any redness or irritation.
With one day complete, my initial reaction was that it felt like a lot of moisturization … even for my naturally dry skin. I was afraid to wake up to an oil-slicked skin disaster, but the products all settled in and by the next day, my face looked normal and felt super smooth.
The 2-Week Progression
By day three of this journey, I can honestly say that my skin just looked ultra-clean. The usual slight splotches I see on my sensitive skin in the morning had faded a bit. This alone, I considered a success.
However, between days four through six, I almost wanted to throw in the towel. Initially looking bright, my now skin looked more washed out and it felt like my pores were enlarging. I decided to continue though, hoping my skin just needed to adjust.
And I’m glad I did.
Patience awarded me around the eighth day, as the skin issues I was seeing before had dissipated and my skin was brighter and more supple than ever. A treasured relief. These “good skin days” continued throughout, even on days 11 and 12 when I was traveling and didn’t put as much effort into each step, proving the process didn’t have to be as strict as I assumed.
After two weeks, I can confidently say my face felt and looked smoother and had a lasting supple and dewy effect that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.
While I wouldn’t say my skin was suddenly in Benjamin Button territory (One can dream, right?), I would say that it looked more youthful and truly healthy. And that, for me, is a win. Plus, I even got a few compliments on my skin. An extra win.
I also realized this really isn’t a quick fix, which Walker agrees, saying “consistency is key” when it comes to this K-beauty regime. It took around 10 days, at least, to see more noticeable results.
It’s also important to note that although my face is already dry and this regime requires a lot of hydration, it still works for all skin types. Walker explains that “even oily skin types will benefit because more hydration = less sebum production.”
Will I continue with the 10-step process? Yes and no. Probably not every day, because life gets busy, but I do think I’m going to continue with it as much as I can because of the results. Or, at the very least, adopt a few of its core principles.
And this, I’m happy to hear, is A-OK. Walker says, “A 10-step process is not necessary, although the 10-steps will give you the most benefits.” Adding, “you can still see noticeable results by implementing cleansing, exfoliating, treatment, moisturizing and protecting (SPF) into your routine.”
Overall, I think the 10-step K-beauty regime was enlightening, and it proved to me that dedicating quality time for your skin and making it just as much a high priority as other aspects of your life is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle. We try and make time for sleeping and eating well, so why not make extra time to protect and treat our skin?
My take: Call in the sheet masks, Koreans are doing skincare right.